Request for Proposals: The Way Forward: Higher Education in a Time of Crisis

Posted by Bringing Theory to Practice on September 29, 2020

You know full well that this is a time of crisis –– in higher education, in American society, and globally. Members of the BT2P (Bringing Theory to Practice) community have responded in many ways: marching for Black lives, phone-banking for political candidates, figuring out how to teach with masks or screens, learning how to be fully present to our students and our colleagues despite masks and screens. Along with such actions, we’ve also been reflecting on how BT2P can contribute in the face of the crisis. What is our work to do?

We are announcing one answer: a new initiative called The Way Forward: Higher Education in a Time of Crisis. It includes a new funding opportunity, The Way Forward Grants, for which we are issuing a Request for Proposals with this announcement. But we see this initiative as more than just a grant program. Its aim is to help catalyze creative educational responses to the crises threatening higher education and American society.

Why This Initiative?

COVID-19 is the precipitating crisis of this moment. Colleges and universities face the excruciating challenge of sustaining their educational mission while protecting the health of students, faculty, staff, and surrounding communities. The pandemic has disrupted institutional and pedagogical practices in the short run; long-term change seems all but inevitable.

But COVID-19 isn’t a stand-alone emergency. It can’t be disentangled from the harms of systemic racism, deepening inequality, economic precarity, the erosion of democratic norms, and the accelerating catastrophe of climate change. The pandemic is an episode in a larger set of crises that began before 2020 and will continue after. And these have turbo-charged issues that higher education was already facing: racial and class disparities in student access and success, rising levels of tuition and debt, languishing graduation rates, and declining public trust. Higher ed was heading toward a reckoning on these issues. It’s upon us now.

In the face of this storm, academic emergency management has been necessary, but it’s not sufficient. The scale of the problems we face mean that, one way or another, higher education will be changed. And if all we do is manage the immediate crisis, then the crisis will manage that change for us. Left to its own energies, emergency management will drive higher ed toward more instrumental practices, more inequality, more adjuncts, more stop-outs, and the thinning-out of teaching and learning.

The Way Forward initiative is an effort to chart a different path: to shape educational change in the face of crisis, rather than letting crisis-driven change shape us. It’s grounded in the conviction that higher education possesses important resources to bring to bear on the crisis: our core values, our most innovative practices, and untapped reservoirs of creativity. The initiative aims to activate those resources. Here is an overview of the larger goals of The Way Forward initiative:

The Way Forward Grants

The Way Forward will start with two projects. In the coming months, we will launch a podcast series that engages educational innovators and thought-leaders in discussion about systemic, positive change in the face of the current crisis. We are releasing a Request for Proposals for multi-institutional projects that advance and test such positive change:

As detailed in the RFP, The Way Forward Grants represent a second round of the multi-institutional innovation grants (MIGs) that Bringing Theory to Practice began two years ago. Like our initial round, these grants are modest, with a maximum of $8000. Yet their goal is large: to catalyze projects that bring the core purposes and best practices of undergraduate education to bear on the linked crises of racism, precarity, and well-being threatening our students and our work –– and to model the way forward for transformative change.

The RFP provides details about eligibility, criteria of selection, and potential areas of grant support. We hope that you will consider developing a collaborative proposal and that you will circulate this letter and the attached RFP to others who might be interested.

This community of educators needs one another, not only to sustain ourselves in the exhaustion of the current moment, but also to undertake the long game of creative change. Please take care and know that we are thankful for the work you do.

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